Exporting and consumer trends dominate the fresh produce industry in Montreal and Quebec. Despite a population of more than 4 million, the Montreal area and Quebec are strong growing regions, both in seasonal field crops and the country’s expanding greenhouse industry. Over the past year, currency fluctuations have brought an advantage to exporters as the value of the Canadian dollar dropped relative to the U.S. dollar. While there is no central terminal market per se, a handful of wholesalers have warehouses and sales centers within a 10-mile region of downtown Montreal in the Place des Producteurs at the Marché Central. The wholesale marketplace, though extremely competitive—in part due to increased produce sales by large chains such as Loblaw, Sobeys, and Walmart— continues to report robust sales and growth. Retailers are also doing well, and using packaging and other marketing strategies to differentiate themselves and generate customer loyalty.
The Marché Central
Montreal’s Marché Central, or Central Market, was a terminal market and produce hub in the 1960s. Today, one wholesaler remains in a complex that has been revamped into more of a retail mall. The other wholesalers are located nearby in individual, privately-owned and operated locations.
“By the 1990s, there were only a few wholesalers left at the Marché Central,” confirms George Pitsikoulis, president of Canadawide Fruit Wholesalers, Inc. “Up until three years ago, there were two wholesalers left, including us, and now there is only one. The rest is retail—Costco, Best Buy, a movie theater, and such. It’s only called the Marché Central because it is in a central location.”
Canadawide moved out of the Marché Central two years ago, motivated by a buyout offer from the owners of the property. “The landlords made us an offer to release the lease which enabled us to move and build a new facility with a 30,000-square-foot showroom, a warehouse that can hold 7,000 pallets, and space for our packaging program all in one location,” Pitsikoulis explains.
Wholesalers and Retailers
Overall, wholesale business seems to be doing well in the region, despite tough competition and more retailers setting up their own distribution networks. “It’s very competitive,” Pitsikoulis agrees, but “no more or less than New York or Chicago or anywhere else. The chains mostly source direct, but do use a number of local distributors to fill gaps and help with some programs. We participate in [these programs] along with other wholesalers.”
“It used to be the chains bought quite a bit off the wholesalers,” comments Mario Ceccarielli, president at Golden Garden International, “but now, they only use the wholesalers when they’re extremely short, and then they want it for almost nothing. The wholesalers are all fighting over the same smaller retail stores. As a broker who works with wholesalers, the chains have impacted my business, too. I rely on wholesale business.”